|Type||Scaled model kits|
Gundam models are model kits depicting the vehicles and characters of the fictional Gundam multiverse by Bandai. These kits have become popular among mecha anime fans and model enthusiasts in Japan and in other nearby Asian countries since the 1980s. Gundam modeling spread in the 1990s with North America and Europe being exposed to Gundam through television, video and manga. Gundam models, as well as the hobby of assembling and painting them, is known in Japan as Gunpla (ガンプラ, Ganpura), a portmanteau of "Gundam plastic model", with plastic being the most common material for the retail kits.
- Late 1970s–1980s
Mobile Suit Gundam debuted in 1979 and the first Gunpla kits came in 1980, following the show's cancellation. Nearly every mecha in the series was made into a model kit, from mobile suits to support aircraft and space battleships. Parts came in up to three different colored sprues. These kits lacked articulation and detail, and required glue and paint to build and finish.
Following the completion of the TV series line, Bandai introduced the MSV (Mobile Suit Variation) line, featuring alternate variants of the series' mobile suits. One of the highlights of the line was the PF-78-1 Perfect Gundam, which introduced System Injection (a process where one sprue—sometimes even one part—was molded in multiple colors), which minimized the need to paint the model.
- Mid 1980s–1990s
Following a line of kits from the Round Vernian Vifam series, the 1985 Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam kit line incorporated the use of poly-caps (soft plastic, typically Polyethylene) as connectors for better articulation of joints. The 1987 Gundam Sentinel model line introduced the concept of snap-fit models, reducing the need to use glue. And starting from the 1988 Mobile Suit Gundam: Char's Counterattack line, all Gunpla kits feature snap-fit assembly.
In 1990, Bandai introduced the High Grade (HG) line, which featured newer 1:144 scale versions of the RX-78-2 Gundam, the RX-178 Gundam Mk. II, the MSZ-006 Zeta Gundam and the MSZ-010 ZZ Gundam. Each kit boasted exceptional detail and articulation, as well as features normally found in their larger-scale versions such as the Gundam's Core Block System and the Zeta's transformation feature.
Beginning with Mobile Suit Victory Gundam in 1993, a unified set of poly-cap joints was created for smaller scale models that allowed easy mass production of models that all shared the same basic skeletal frame. This standardization allowed Bandai to release more models over a shorter period. As a result, the Gundam shows of the 1990s usually received sizable 1:144 model lines. These were all of similar quality, with some attention to colors molded in the right area, a reasonable level of detail for their price point, and mobility as such that all major joints had at least some degree of mobility.
In 1995, the 1:100 Master Grade (MG) line was introduced. This line features more parts, better detail and improved articulation than past kits of the same scale.
Following the release of the Perfect Grade Evangelion, Bandai introduced the 1:60 Perfect Grade (PG) line to the Gundam series in 1998. This line features extensive detail and articulation, as well as working skeletal systems and light-up features. The PG line is the most expensive among all Gunpla kits, and only a select few mobile suits have been released in this line.
To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the franchise in 1999, Bandai released 1:144 First Grade (FG) kits of mobile suits from the original series. Marketed as budget models, these snap-fit kits featured the simplicity of the original kits, but with more modern designs based upon the corresponding Perfect Grade kits.
Mobile Suit Gundam SEED introduced a new type of non-graded (NG) 1:144 model, with a completely different design plan. While these still feature snap-fit and color molding, they omit major joints, opting instead to only allow critical pieces to move—typically the neck, hips, shoulders, and feet. These are budget models, usually retailing much lower than other models; and this line was extensive, covering nearly every machine to be featured in the TV series. Gundam SEED also featured non graded 1:100 models, identical in quality to Bandai's High Grade offerings. It was also during this decade that the term "Gunpla" was coined by Bandai.
To commemorate the 30th anniversary of Mobile Suit Gundam, Bandai released the MG RX-78-2 Gundam ver. 2.0. While this model is closely designed after the anime art, it features radical improvements over the previous Gundam kits in terms of engineering and build quality.
In 2010, Bandai released the 1:48 Mega Size Model RX-78-2 Gundam kit as part of the franchise's 30th anniversary campaign. This kit features many innovations that make it easy to assemble for first-time Gunpla collectors. For example, the parts are attached to sprue gates thin enough to break without the need to use of plastic cutters, and excess gate plastic can be removed from the parts without using a hobby knife. Some sprues have been designed to snap together for easy and quick removal of assembled parts. Also in the same year, Bandai introduced the 1:144 Real Grade (RG) line, which takes design elements from the MG line such as an inner skeletal frame. Both Mega Size Model and RG variants of the RX-78-2 Gundam were patterned after the 1/1 scale Gundam statue on display in Odaiba. Bandai also released Ecopla, a series of HGUC and SD kits molded in black and made entirely out of recycled sprues.
In 2011, Bandai released the Entry Grade (EG) line, a low-cost model series similar to the 1:144 NG and FG lines and is sold only in parts of Asia. Unlike other kits of the same scale, all EG kits are made in China. The series was discontinued after its first run. Back in Japan, Bandai introduced the Advanced Grade (AG) line for Mobile Suit Gundam AGE, a budget line that focuses more on the arrangement of colored parts; thus sacrificing more articulation than the previous budget lines. The AG line incorporates a microchip that enables collectors to use the kit in the Gage-ing arcade game.
In 2014, as part of the 35th anniversary celebration of Gundam, Bandai released the MG RX-78-2 Gundam ver. 3.0, which incorporates the engineering techniques used in the MG 2.0 and RG kits. Bandai introduced a sub-line of the HG line in mid-2015 called "HG Revive", which consists of re-engineered 1:144 scale kits of the RX-78-2 Gundam and other classic mobile suit designs.
Plastic Gundam model kits are manufactured in Japan or China by Bandai, which has an exclusive license in manufacturing and marketing them around the world. The models are typical of plastic models; sprues of injection-molded polystyrene (PS) parts which must be cut out before assembly. Some of the joints and frame parts are made of ABS. The majority of post-1990 models have snap-fit parts, with models prior to that requiring an adhesive such as plastic cement. Plastic Gundam models kits are typically supplied with stickers and sometimes waterslide decals to apply extra colors and markings as seen in popular media such as TV shows, movies, manga or video games. Smaller or lower-grade kits often require paint to give the model a finished appearance, due to color discrepancies.
The kits range in different scales with the most popular scales being: 1:550, 1:220, 1:144, 1:100 and 1:60, and more recently the 1:48 Mega Size Model and 1:35 (UC HardGraph) lines. Generally in real world terms, kits range from 4~5 inches for small-scale models, 6 to 8 inches for mid-scale models, and 12 inches for big-scale models, although these sizes vary from model to model. With a few exceptions, all currently produced kits bear grade ratings that give a good idea about their final quality. The following lists the most well-known and common categories with humanoid designs (very roughly) in their order of quality, from lowest to highest.
Scales and grades
Not based on any particular scale, the super-deformed style features comically proportioned models, the most noticeable features of which are their very large heads. Super Deformed Gundam kits are often very easy to construct but offer very limited articulation and require paint and detailing to truly "finish" the kit. The most famous line is the BB Senshi (or "SD GUNDAM BB Warriors" in English). There are also separate product lines: for instance, Superior Defender Gundam Force and Ganso SD Gundam (discontinued in the 1990s). Most kits of this line are from the Musha Gundam series and the Knight Gundam series.
In 2015, Bandai introduced SD Build Fighters (SDBF) as a complement to the 1:144 scale High Grade Build Fighters line for Gundam Build Fighters Try. Another line called SD Gundam EX-Standard (SDEX) was also announced. These kits featured extra pieces that could used with 1:144 High Grade kits. In 2018 they were replaced by the SD Gundam Cross Silhouette line. This is the first time an SD kit featured an inner frame like MG and newer HG line possess. The 8.5 cm “SD” Frames and 9.5 cm “CS” Frames allowed parts to be swapped between kits. This allowed for quick and easy kit bashing that fit along with the theme of the Build Fighters series it was released alongside.
The very first kits have been running for 40 years (starting with RX-78-2 Gundam) and are routinely re-released by Bandai. As these kits are limited in articulation and require glue (for the early kits) and paint to assemble, these have retroactively been categorized as No Grade (NG), to differentiate them from First Grade (FG).
During the mid- to late-1980s, the quality of molding improved and High Grade (HG) level kits were introduced in 1990, starting from the titular mobile suits of the first four TV series. These limited-run kits featured full snap-fit assembly, an "internal frame" (for the first two kits, which provides better range of motion and were more poseable), and utilized the molding technique known as System Injection, wherein multiple colors would be cast on the same part. Since 1999, the High Grade series uses various names to separate them from line to line. High Grade Universal Century (HGUC) refers to units that appear from Mobile Suit Gundam to Mobile Suit Victory Gundam and the series that are released in between. In 2010, this was expanded to include other series, under the lines High Grade After Colony (HGAC), High Grade After War (HGAW), High Grade Future Century (HGFC), High Grade Correct Century (HGCC) and High Grade Cosmic Era (HGCE). Models from Mobile Suit Gundam SEED/Mobile Suit Gundam SEED Destiny, Mobile Suit Gundam 00, Mobile Suit Gundam AGE, Gundam Reconguista in G, and Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin were released separately under the sub-lines High Grade Gundam SEED (HG Gundam SEED), High Grade Gundam 00 (HG Gundam 00), High Grade Gundam AGE (HG Gundam AGE), High Grade Reconguista in G (HG Reconguista in G), and High Grade The Origin (HG The Origin), respectively. In late 2013, two new lines were introduced: High Grade Build Fighters (HGBF) and High Grade Build Custom (HGBC) to celebrate the release of Gundam Build Fighters. The HGBC series is one of the first Gunpla-related material that allowed modelers to customize their Gunpla with various gear. In 2015, a new line called High Grade Iron Blooded Orphans (HGIBO) was announced to coincide with the release of Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans. In 2018, a new line called High Grade Build Divers (HGBD) was announced to coincide with the release of Gundam Build Divers.
In 2010, Real Grade (RG) surpassed High Grade as the top-end series of the 1:144 Gunpla line. These kits feature extensive detail and articulation, as well as a poseable skeletal frame comparable to the 1:100 Master Grade kits. The first RG kit was the 1:144 RX-78-2 Gundam, followed by the 1:144 MS-06S Char's Zaku II, GAT-X105 Aile Strike, MS-06F Zaku II (Green), ZGMF-X10A Freedom. In 2011, Bandai released the Entry Grade (EG) line in Southeast Asia. Manufactured in China, the EG line contained fewer parts than the FG kits, thus having very limited articulation. Only four Gundams were released in the line.
Beginning with Victory Gundam in 1993, the High Grade line would shift to relatively well detailed larger scale kits in the 1:100 scale. There was little need for painting and detailing. This applied to the 1:100 scale models produced between 1993 and 1998, including Mobile Suit Victory Gundam, Mobile Fighter G Gundam, Mobile Suit Gundam Wing, After War Gundam X, New Mobile Report: Gundam Wing Endless Waltz, and Turn A Gundam. Each TV series would receive on average between six and eight models in this scale and grade. The HG moniker reverted into the 1:144 scale line in the 2000s.
Just like the 1:144 scale model kits, these 1:100 scale kits started about the same time, again starting from RX-78-2 Gundam. "Generic" 1:100 kits may also be called No-Grade (NG 1:100) to differentiate from other specific 1:100 kits. Later kits (from Gundam SEED onwards) are clearly inspired from the post-HG 1:100 kits and feature a similar or greater level of quality and detail. This line was discontinued in 2009 until the announcement of the 1:100 Gundam Barbatos in 2015.
Master Grade (MG) models were first introduced in the summer of 1995, designed and made to higher standards than most other models. These kits take much longer to construct and are often much more expensive than their lower-grade counterparts. More recent Master Grade plastic models typically feature a movable inner frame system which enables extensive movement and bending of joints. As well including standing and seating miniature figures of the pilots of each gundam model. The popularity of this line was so great that a lot of old and new mobile suits from non-graded series were remade as Master Grade models.
Though the name "Master Grade" is widely known because of Gundam, it is not Gundam exclusive as a few Master Grade offerings have come from mechas in Patlabor and Dunbine. Bandai also released a line featuring a series of character figures from Dragon Ball Z, Kamen Rider, and Tiger & Bunny under the name of MG Figurerise.
Reborn One Hundred, or RE/100, was introduced by Bandai in 2015 to cover mobile suit designs that are either too obscure or too costly to receive the MG treatment. Much like later NG 1:100 kits, the RE kits feature detail and articulation equal to or greater than 1:144 HG kits.
Bandai released the 1:60 scale versions of the main mecha of major TV series. These are Non-Grade or TV-Grade models, and are the main line of the 1:60 scale kits. Early 1:60 kits, like other scales, were simply larger versions of the smaller scales. In the early to mid 1990s, three High Grade EX models of V2 Gundam, Shining Gundam and God Gundam were released, featuring more details and gimmicks than their smaller counterparts.
Perfect Grade (PG) is the ultimate line in Bandai kits. Originating in 1997 with the EVA-01 PG kit from Evangelion. The first PG Gunpla kit was a RX 78-2 Gundam model that was released in 1998. Only 18 kits have been released as 1/60 Perfect Grade since then. As the name suggests Perfect Grade gunpla kits attempt to represent the Gundam as perfectly as possible with real world limitations. These limitations force the Perfect Grade line to sometimes take several years between releases as new technologies in model making are sometimes required to recreate these effects. Features like metal joints, increased detail in plastic molding and plastic quality, as well as gimmicks like LED kits are signatures of the PG line. With flamboyance comes cost however and most of these kits are well above the average price for a gunpla model. Though the target age is 15 and up these kits should usually only be built by experienced builders as their increased detail does lead to some challenges during the build. 
Bandai released the 1:48 Mega Size Model (MSM) line in 2009 to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Mobile Suit Gundam. Available in four models - the RX-78-2 Gundam, the MS-06C Zaku II, the MS-06S Char's Zaku II, and the Gundam AGE-1 Normal, these kits are essentially larger versions of their 1:144 High Grade UC counterparts, but priced much lower than the 1:60 Perfect Grade line. Once assembled, these models stand 37.5 cm tall (about 15 inches).
Bandai developed these kits with ease of build in mind as they require no tools to build. The individual pieces are attached to the runner by a very thin piece of plastic so that they can be broken off by hand. The assembly process can be sped up even more as the runners have been developed in a way so that you can attach two together and break off the individual pieces that way. Bandai also include a 'Double Separator' tool to help with the new method of building.
Universal Century HardGraph line does not primarily center around the Mobile Suits of the Gundam universe. Rather, it centers on military things on a more conventional scale such as land vehicles, tanks and troops. However, some kits do include detailed to-scale mecha parts which are particularly useful for the creation of dioramas. For instance, the Anti-MS Squad kit includes an articulated lower Gundam/GM arm.
There are other less common scales such as the Speed Grade's 1:200.
A 1:400 scale model line is designed for large mobile armours and battle ships in the Gundam Collection line, which the line's ordinary mobile suits as figures, not models. Only extremely large units like Mobile Armours and Warships need assembly. These models are pre-coloured models, and the warships need minimal assembly. An earlier line of model, the High Grade Mechanics, with a scale of 1:550 held a similar function in introducing large mobile units, but the line only consist of 3 mobile units from 0083.
Another high-detail line is the EX model, in scales of 1:144 and 1:100 (non-humanoid units like aircraft) and 1:1600/1:1700 (spaceships), ranging from the Universal Century to Cosmic Era productions. This series is not Gundam-exclusive, having models from other series like some of the jet aircraft from Sentō Yōsei Yukikaze and at least one aircraft from Ace Combat 5.
Gundam FIX Figuration
Quality and Pricing Concerns
The Gundam FIX Figuration (aka G.F.F.) series of collectible figures was started based on the Gundam mechanical designs of Hajime Katoki and his 'Gundam FIX' illustration artbook and are released by Tamashii Nations, a Bandai's characters based toys line. These figures share similar features as those found in the MSiA series, but are considerably more detailed and often include more accessories. Changeable parts and variant models are often utilized throughout the line, offering the collector a wide variety of display abilities. The collectible figures use PVC (with some ABS plastic) for construction materials, and a recently introduced expansion to the line use metal in the skeleton of the figure. Gundam FIX figures are designed to be true to Hajime Katoki's vision, and as such often adopt design elements and styling found throughout his artwork. The Fix series caters to Gundam fans who enjoy the scale, possibility and durability of the MSiA line, but seek the extensive details and variations that can often only be found in the Master Grade Gundam model-kits.
The G.F.F. line does carry a higher price than the MSIA and MSIA Extended lines, which can represent a concern for some collectors. However, overall the G.F.F. represent a more "high-end" line of collectibles, which often contain better detail, more accessories, and the option to build multiple variations in the same box.
As the series has progressed, G.F.F. collectibles have been improved. Changes include sharper-more precise part casting resulting in better detail, improved articulation, and improved durability.
The G.F.F.N. line up is a significantly better than the old G.F.F. series, though usually sporting a considerably higher price due to materials, production and shipping. The quality has improved thanks to a new durable plastic that is distinctively reminiscent to the Gundam Model plastic (HG, HGUC, MG, PG) thus replacing the resin that shrank while curing. There is also little, or no casting lines, professionally cast heads, and considerably less of the brittle gray-ish plastic that plagued the G.F.F. series, Rubber is now being used sparsely, often to be used for the hands to allow ease of swapping weapons or spare hands without breaking or warping the joint socket. Aside from price, there are very few toys in the line-up, with some costing between $70–$150 or more (essentially the price of a Perfect Grade, or large Master Grade.)
Bandai also created similar toy lines:
- G.F.F. Metal Composite - a spin-off of the G.F.F series utilizing injection-molded ABS plastic and die-cast metal.
- Zeonography - a spin-off of the G.F.F series that showcases mobile suits from the Zeon forces.
- Cosmic Region - high-quality line of mobile suits, similar to G.F.F., that appear in Mobile Suit Gundam SEED Destiny.
- 00 (Double O) Region - high-quality line of mobile suits, similar to G.F.F., that appear in Mobile Suit Gundam 00.
- G.F.F.N - Gundam Fix Figuration Next, '004X' Series utilizing metallic parts, slightly larger scale, better quality paint job and markings. The first figure is a re-release of the #0030 MSZ-008 Zeta II, released March 2009.
- K.F.F (Keroro Fix Figuration) - a spinoff lines features characters in Sgt. Frog (which the series itself plays lots of parody towards Gundam series) with original mechas designed by Hajime Katoki. As being a parody, the boxart sticks as much what as the original G.F.F. is.
Over the years, Bandai released special limited editions of various kits, usually as competition (such as the yearly Bandai Action Kits Asia (now Universal) Cup held in Hong Kong) prizes, or as an event-limited (such as Japanese toy expos, movie launch premieres) item, although sometimes these kits are sold as limited web-shop items or discreetly sold by Bandai. These kits usually come in clear plastic, metal-plated (certain kits are in so-called 24-k gold finish), "gloss-finish", "pearl-finish", "titanium-finish", or any combination of these. Their prices are usually much higher than their regular-release counterparts.
Bandai has also released some Gundam garage kit under their branch, B-Club. These models are composed of unpainted resin with no decals provided, often needing modification by the modeler due to the inherent properties of the manufacturing process. While comparably more expensive (some surpassing $400) compared to plastic kits, they offer an unparalleled level of detail for the dedicated and experienced model builder.
A few select kits have also appeared manufactured from metal. These kits are offered by several different manufacturers and most commonly will result in a finished model of about MG level.
These types of models (real detail) usually take days to build.
For display only
For trade shows and toy fairs, Bandai displays some extremely large models in 1:6 or 1:12 scale. True to the scaling, some of these models are well over 5 feet (1.50 m) tall. Although most of these are one off promotional models used for display purposes, Bandai has produced a few of these for commercial purposes under their HY2M line. Notably, these are MS-06S "Zaku II Commander Type" (Char Aznable custom), which is now out of production, and the RX-78-2 "Gundam". These generally retail for approximately $2,000 and are intended to be sold primarily to store owners as display fronts. As part of the 30th Anniversary of the Gundam series, the company officially announced a project on March 11, 2009 called Real-G planning to build a 1:1 real size scale Gundam in Japan, it was completed on June 9, 2009 and displayed in a Tokyo park. The 18-meter tall statue was later moved and reconstructed in Shizuoka City, where it stayed from July 2010 to March 2011 when in August it was dismantled only to reopen in Odaiba, Tokyo on April 19, 2012. It now stands in Odaiba along with a gift shop called "Gundam Front Tokyo."
Chinese copy controversy
In April 2010, Bandai sued two Chinese toy manufacturers for manufacturing and selling counterfeit Gunpla kits. The lawsuit states that Bandai demands 3.69 million RMB (roughly US$540,000) compensation from the companies.
In popular culture
- Four Gundam Media series titles focus primarily on Gunpla kits: Plamo Kyo-Shiro (1982), Model Suit Gunpla Builders Beginning G (2010), and Gundam Build Fighters (2013) and its sequel Gundam Build Fighters Try (2014) and later the spiritual successor Gundam Build Divers (2018).
- In the manga/anime series Sgt. Frog, an addiction to Gundam models is the only thing stopping Keroro from invading Earth, since he reasons that if the Keronians invade Earth, all of the Gundam models will be destroyed, and there will be no one to make new ones. He loves the models so much, if any harm comes to them, he will react violently (such as going Super Saiyan). He is prepared for such events, though, since he keeps spare kits in the Hinata family's attic.
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- Bandai Hobby Site (in Japanese)
- Bandai Hobby Site (in English)
- Bandai Action Kits Universal Cup (BAKUC) Online Competition (in English)
- Tamashii Web (in Japanese) - Official Gundam fix figuration series website.